Wednesday, 2 January 2013

The Spring Massage Experience

About 9 months ago a friend invited me to go for a massage near the school, and so I figured, why not try it.  Since then I've gotten hooked.  Only now, I am asking myself why it took over 10 years of living in China to think of doing massages on a regular basis.  Sure wish I had thought of this earlier.

There was the odd Thai massage I tried now and again while traveling, but nothing on a regular basis.  At that point while traveling, I recall reading about how the Thais  (and I would argue, the Chinese also) regarded the massage experience as a key part of their overall physical health regimen, and most would do this quite often.  Doctors, for example, are certainly trained in massage therapy and the vast majority have it built into their clinics.  I thought that strange at the time, as a westerner, since we are accustomed to viewing massages as kind of 'pampering' or relaxing kind of therapy that happens only on special occasions.

Certainly, that is how it is marketed and portrayed in the western countries. A typical massage therapy session would be not even an hour  (perhaps 50 minutes) and run upwards of $80.  There would be all kinds of forms to fill out, and tons of regulations involved in the industry.  In Asia it's quite different.  Especially in China, the whole massage industry is unregulated.  The prices are much cheaper, running from about $8 to $15 an hour depending on many variables.  So, when going to Thailand on a vacation and noticing this, it would only make sense for the westerner to 'indulge' or be 'pampered' with a massage after not having one for many months back home, even years.

The Chinese massage experience is somewhere around the $15 / hour  range if you go to higher-quality establishments like Spring Massage.

Of course, you can go much cheaper than that to countless other venues, but you get what you pay for.  Many of them offer extra services and happy endings.  This isn't to say that Spring does not, as this is China, and the industry is unregulated here.  But in general, the higher-quality establishments have a much better chance to offer the legit massage experience, especially if you follow the advice below:

Chinese massage is somewhat different than Thai massage.  While Thai massage is predominantly about stretching and body flexibility, the main focus of Chinese massage is to release tension.  The Shanghainese tend to be experts on the back, neck, and shoulders.  This only makes sense as the vast majority of customers are white-collars workers with high-pressure jobs who spend hours sitting at desks and develop stress in those areas.

It goes without saying that the massage experience will be painful.  Don't be fooled by the petite look of the masseuse, these people make it hurt.  That's all part of the philosophy, that pain is a signal that the tension is being released.  No pain is essentially no benefit.

Most of the time I go for 90 minutes to 2 hours full body massage, roughly twice a week.  This is combined with regular gym workouts, which I'll do a post later on.  The standard massage is 'zhi ya' or the pressure massage.  Other types include the 'tao can' which is a combined foot and body oil massage.  Fire cupping is possible as well, where they put suction cups on your back and suck the air out, leaving red circular marks.  Good to combine that with back scratching, or 'gua sha'

It is a very good idea to get a member card.  They way it works is you advance pay amounts of 1000, 3000, 5000, or 10000 RMB depending on how much of a discount you want.  The more you pre-pay, the bigger the discount.  Also, they treat you differently depending on the type of card --- that's a no-brainer.

If you are pleased with the massage experience, then most definitely get the 'number' of the masseuse.  What I mean by this is their service number.  All of them have one, usually two digits, to identify themselves.  So if you like the person giving the massage, then memorize the number and make a telephone reservation the next time.  What usually happens is the good people get snatched up fast, and it becomes very difficult to make bookings with them.

Another thing to mention is this is perhaps the best opportunity I've had to practice Chinese.  Most of them like to chat.  Some customers enjoy this, others can't stand it.  Spring Massage tends to be full of chatty masseuses, which creates a fun atmosphere that can otherwise be a very boring job for them.  It's not unlike Thailand where they generate a sense of 'sanuk' out of routine jobs.  Actually, I quite like the chatting, and have improved a lot on my Chinese in this sense.


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